UK

Supreme Court ruling leaves Queen in middle of political storm

Boris Johnson meets the Queen Image copyright PA Media

As the Supreme Court ruling hacked a new path through Britain's system of government, brushing ancient royal powers to one side, from Buckingham Palace came - nothing.

This is precisely where the Queen does not want to be - right in the middle of a political and constitutional hurricane, with the Supreme Court redefining the relationship between judiciary, legislature, government and monarch.

When the Scottish Court of Session ruled that the prorogation was illegal - one of the cases that went to the Supreme Court last week - a Palace source said simply: "The Queen acts and acted on the advice of her ministers".

And that line held right up until today. The Queen has very little, if any, discretion over the prorogation of Parliament.

There's an argument that says the Queen might have turned down Prime Minister Boris Johnson's request, given that his legitimacy is arguably thinner than previous prime ministers.

That would have been running zig-zag through a constitutional minefield.

But what happened today was painful for the Palace.

It wasn't just Mr Johnson's request for a prorogation that was found by the Supreme Court to be unlawful, void and of no effect.

It was also the Order in Council, the legal mechanism that the Queen personally approves, that was found to be unlawful, void and of no effect. And, said the Supreme Court, it should be quashed.

More importantly, the Queen has been dragged by the PM's unlawful prorogation into the place where for decades politicians have agreed she should never be - right into a domestic political argument.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionThe Supreme Court declared "Parliament has not been prorogued"

Former Conservative prime minister Sir John Major commented after the judgement that "no prime minister must ever treat the monarch or Parliament in this way again".

He chose his words - and the order of his words - carefully, and conservatively. First monarch, then Parliament. He understands the damage this has done to the position of the Queen.

The man who pretty much defined the modern role of the Queen, the Victorian Walter Bagehot, wrote of the monarchy: "Its mystery is its life. We must not let in daylight upon magic."

'Blown apart'

The role has always worked in the shadows, the grey areas of the constitution, with an agreement going back decades amongst politicians that unwritten rules and conventions would be respected, and that nothing would be done to put the Queen into an embarrassing position, a position where she could be accused of having a political role.

Boris Johnson has blown that apart.

With the Supreme Court judgement a bright and critical light now illuminates the monarchy.

And the cry has gone up - even from the present system's doughtiest defenders - for a written constitution, one where the powers of the different parts of the state and the different nations of the kingdom, are clearly explained and defined.

At which point, of course, some will ask - just what is the role in government, in the 21st Century, of a hereditary monarch?

Elizabeth came to the throne as the age of deference slipped away.

She has been a conservative monarch, content to play little more than a symbolic and ceremonial role. She understands that her position is dependent on her staying deep in the shadows of government.

But now daylight has flooded in. No wonder the Palace has decided to stay silent.

More on this story